Educator ResourcesStudent Information Systems and Gender
A school’s recordkeeping and reporting requirements do not exempt it from its obligations to safeguard student privacy and create a safe and supportive environment. Those obligations co-exist and schools must find a way to harmonize them."

This quote from “Schools in Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools” points to one of the most high-stakes issues for transgender students at school: whether their name and gender marker accurately reflect their affirmed gender in the student information system. When it does, it is a powerful demonstration of the school’s commitment to honoring the student’s identity. When it does not, at best, it is continual denial of the young person’s authentic self; at worst, it potentially betrays their privacy and endangers their safety.

Processes like enrollment, taking attendance, assigning grades and communicating with parents can compromise the student’s privacy and undermine an otherwise supportive school environment. Consider that a substitute teacher simply calling out names from the attendance sheet, which typically lists each student’s birth certificate name, can inadvertently disclose the student’s transgender identity to their peers. Other typical stumbling points include after-school programs, school photos, outside professionals providing a service on campus, yearbooks, ID cards, posted lists, library cards, lunch cards, distribution of texts or other school supplies and standardized tests. Even in the most supportive of school settings, simple bureaucratic oversights can cause real trauma for a transgender student.

For schools, this can be a difficult tightrope to navigate. Often facing apparently inflexible requirements for maintaining “mandatory permanent pupil records,” yet responsible for protecting a student’s privacy, school officials often feel caught between the proverbial rock and hard place. However, while a schools’ record keeping and reporting requirements are often seen as a barrier to preventing those oversights, many school districts have found solutions that allow them to comply with those requirements while meeting their obligations to safeguard a transgender student’s privacy and right to learn in a safe and supportive school environment.

Suggested Solutions

The following are some examples of some solutions. This is by no means an exhaustive list and the viability of these solutions in any school depends on a variety of factors, including each state’s legal requirements for recordkeeping and student information systems. A school’s recordkeeping and reporting requirements do not exempt it from its obligation to safeguard student privacy and create a safe and supportive environment. Those obligations co-exist and schools must find a way to harmonize them. 

Suggested solutions include:

  • Maintain a copy of the student’s birth certificate or other identity document that reflects the student’s name and sex as assigned at birth under lock and key in the principal’s office, while the student information system has the name and gender marker that correspond to the student’s gender identity. In the student’s cumulative file, include a note indicating that this student’s record is confidential and how to access it (see below for example).
  • Allow the student to re-enroll in the school using a passport with the correct name and gender marker, or change the name and gender marker in the student information system to be consistent with the passport. If a student is a U.S. citizen and their family can afford the passport application fees, obtaining a passport that reflects the student’s gender identity is usually easier than changing that information on their birth certificate.
  • Use the student’s chosen name and gender in the student information system, but switch it to the student’s legal name and gender just before uploading the information to the state department of education’s database. Schools that choose this approach pull that student’s testing booklet before it is distributed and correct the name and gender marker on the label to ensure that the student’s privacy and identity are respected.
  • Create a uniform and public procedure at the district level that connects all electronic student databases and allows a student or their parent to fill out one form indicating the name and pronoun the student wishes to use. Some school districts have established such procedures to streamline the process and reduce the common bureaucratic barriers.
  • Work with the student information system provider to develop a field or screen that would allow the district to maintain the student’s legal and chosen name, but that would use the chosen name to populate attendance sheets, report cards, and other school-related documents.

It is important to note that transgender youth can experience many obstacles to correcting their identity documents. From the high cost of obtaining a court-ordered name change to states requiring transition-related surgery before correcting the gender marker on a birth certificate, barriers prevent students — particularly those in earlier grades — from obtaining identity documents that reflect their true selves. Consequently, school and district personnel must develop policies and protocols for inputting the correct information into the student information system regardless of the student’s legal name or gender marker.

See sample language for a note to be inserted in a student's cumulative file, below.

Sample Cumulative File Insert

[Date]

To Whom It May Concern,

I have reviewed the cumulative enrollment file for _______________________ and acknowledge that the site file is incomplete, but assert that all of the necessary documents for enrollment are appropriate and accounted for. Please direct any questions to [name/role/contact information] should you require access to this student’s record.

Thank you,

[Name] [Role]

cc. Educational Services File Parent